Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan takes centre stage for Papal visit

[22-04-2009 12:00 AM]

Ammon News - AMMAONNEWS - As Jordan prepares to welcome Pope Benedict XVI, Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan has become the focal point for the 3rd papal visit in the History of the Kingdom.

Pope Benedict will begin his pilgrimage in the Holy Land from Jordan. Arriving on May 8th, the Pope’s schedule includes an audience with His Majesty King Abdullah II, and a meeting with prominent Islamic figures, diplomatic corps and other officials in an effort to further promote interfaith dialogue. His itinerary also includes a visit to Al-Hussein Ben Talal Mosque, and the Madaba University which is being built by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Pope will hold a mass at the Amman Stadium at Al-Hussein Sport City, while the highlight of the visit will be a pilgrimage to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan: the Site where Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist.

The Baptism Site, also known as al-Maghtas in Arabic, is becoming an increasingly popular destination for hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims, especially during Epiphany and pilgrimage day.

This point on the eastern banks of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist lived, is considered as one of the most significant religious discoveries in biblical archaeology. Excavations have already uncovered more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Jordan Tourism Board Managing Director Nayef al-Fayez said “the Pope’s pilgrimage to the Baptism Site will further boost Jordan’s historic legacy as the cradle of civilizations and the land of the prophets.” He said Islam’s Prophet Muhammad passed through Jordan during his trading trips, Jesus Christ was baptized there, while Moses stood on Mount Nebo where he first saw the Holy Land.

The Site has undergone a series of renovation works by Jordan’s Baptism Site Commission to provide visitors with easy and secure access. It has drawn 280,000 tourists (mostly European) in 2008, which represents a rise of 86% over 2007.

The Commission has been implementing a major Royal-sponsored development plan that will transform the Site into a global pilgrimage destination. Churches from five different Christian denominations are building facilities and houses on the grounds of the Site, including a Russian Pilgrimage House, a Roman Catholic Church, a Roman Orthodox Monastery and a Coptic Church. During his visit to the Holy Site, Pope Benedict is planned to bless the cornerstones for a Latin Catholic church and Melkite Catholic church.

Dia Madani, director of the Baptism Site Commission, has said that “once the churches are built and monks and priests settle in, the entire concept of the site will be transformed from a historically important site to a leading destination for Christian pilgrimage.

In March this year, the Baptist World Alliance celebrated the dedication and opening of a new baptism centre at the Site with the attendance of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Baptist World Alliance President David Coffey.

Blair said “the whole purpose of having a site like this is to a sense of togetherness and unity and the hope that one day we can all live in peace with each other, regardless of religion and faith.”

The Pope will be the 3rd pontiff to visit Jordan since the 1964 visit by Pope Paul VI, and the second to visit the Baptism Site since the 2000 visit and pilgrimage by Pope John Paul II, who officially recognized it.

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